Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Check out our Helpful Links page!

by Emily Anderson

We've created a new page with helpful links for caregivers. It includes some links that we frequently use in our posts, as well as other links to support, information, and ideas. The permanent link to this page appears on the right side of your screen under the "Alphabetical List of Articles."

Thank you to our reader, Linda, for suggesting some of these websites! If you know of others that have been useful to you, please let us know!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Snow Angels

by Emily Anderson

So far this year, we've had a distinct lack of "winter wonderland," but there is plenty of time left for blizzards and ice. If someone you care about has difficulty walking, an inch of snow might be enough to keep them trapped at home.

Happily, a program called Snow Angels will help people in Allegheny County dig out! People over age 60 or who have a disability and need help to clear their sidewalks can register to get their sidewalk cleared by volunteers. Snow Angels does their best to match a volunteer to each person in need, but people living in remote areas of the county might have to join a waitlist. Call 412-863-5939 to find out if Snow Angels can help the person you love.

But don't stop there! If you are an able-bodied person, consider volunteering! Snow Angels will match you with someone in your neighborhood who needs a hand, and you just have to commit to clearing their sidewalk within 24 hours of a significant snowfall. Your children can help as well, as long as you are there to supervise. Volunteering your time is a great way to build community and make your area safer for all pedestrians--old, young, mailcarriers, emergency officials, and more.

Call now, so you can be ready when (if?) the snow hits!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How-Are-You-Really-Doing Holidays

By Emily Anderson

“Happy Holidays! How are you doing?” asks Aunt Betty, who you see once a year around this time. “Great! Really great!” you respond automatically as you juggle your coat, a tray of cheese slices and three bags of gifts. Is that your final answer? It’s easy to give the usual response, but how you’re really feeling is probably much more complicated.

The holidays are an active season of joy, music and parties. In between shopping, lighting the menorah or pulling out the secret family recipe for fantastic cookies, it can be an excellent season for reflection as well.

Socrates claimed that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I wouldn’t go that far, but many of us do get caught up in the day-to-day stress and errands and forget to take time to think about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Periodically stepping back to assess how life is going can help us appreciate big advances we’ve made—or alert us to a much-needed course correction before it’s too late.

Carve out a little time, find a quiet place to sit with a notebook or a computer. Here are some questions to reflect on to get you started:

  1. When did you realize that you were a caregiver for your loved one?
  2. Think back to last winter. What was different about your relationship with your loved one then? Do you different tasks for or with them? Do you talk about different things? Do you feel different?
  3. What is the hardest thing about helping your loved one? Is it physically difficult or emotionally difficult?
  4. What do you like about being a caregiver? What are the moments you treasure and appreciate?
  5. Check in with yourself. How do you feel since you’ve been a caregiver? How is your body feeling? Your mind? Your spirit?
  6. How is the rest of your life faring—your hobbies and interests, your other family, your work?
  7. What would you like to see be different in the next couple months? How do you want to feel this time next year? What would you need to get there?

Then ask yourself one more question: How do I feel now that I’ve examined my life? If you are not happy with where things are headed, it might be time to get some help. Contact us or your local Department of Aging to see what you might be able to change. If you decide that overall, life is going alright or even going well, then congratulations! Enjoy that feeling.

If you feel inspired, you can share your thoughts and stories with us by emailing them to Please specify if you’re OK with us sharing your story with other people or on this blog (we won’t use your name). Check out stories from other caregivers and their experiences.

Whether you share with us or not, put your reflections somewhere you can find them next year—you may be surprised how much has changed!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Holiday Gift-giving Guide

by Emily Anderson

Happy Holidays! This time of year is always a mix of joy, nostalgia, and tension. Some of that tension arises from trying to find gifts for the people in your life that demonstrate how much they mean to you. To ease some of that burden, here are a few suggestions from us for gifts for the caregivers and older loved ones in your life.

For a caregiver in your life

The greatest gift is often not an item at all, but the gift of time and energy. As one caregiver told me, "I don't need another knick-knack to stick in some corner, but being able to go out to lunch with my friends would be fantastic!"

If you know someone who is a caregiver, consider forgoing the gift card or fruitcake and offer them some free time. Pick an afternoon, a day, or a weekend to be available so they can go out and do something enjoyable. Make sure you get important information before they leave, such as a contact phone number, a list of medications, and important moments in the daily routine.

If you are the caregiver and you want the gift of free time, suggest that to your family! It is not rude to help your family give a gift you will really enjoy. They may not even know that you will appreciate a weekend off more than ties and socks they planned to give you.

For an older loved one

Just like caregivers, older adults in your life might appreciate a gift of some precious time with you. With their input, plan a relaxing outing or an afternoon at home spending quality time. Bird watching, puzzles and simple word games like Boggle are good options. Another good gift is reminders of special memories, like photo albums, written stories, or mementos.

For a loved one with dementia

If you have a loved one with advanced dementia, it might be particularly hard to know how to share the holiday spirit with them. If your loved one has difficulty communicating, gets confused easily, or is stuck in repetitive motions, there are still some gifts they might enjoy. In general, people with advanced dementia will appreciate gifts that stimulate their senses. Some examples include:

These items are simple, colorful, and mesmerizing. Don't be surprised if you get an item for your loved one, but find yourself absentmindedly using it! Remember, if you get a toy that makes some kind of noise, make sure it is a noise you can tolerate hearing repeatedly.

People with dementia can still appreciate non-material gifts as well. They might enjoy the gift of hearing you sing a favorite tune, looking at pictures, or a gentle hand massage that communicates your love and caring.

When you've decided what to give your loved one this season, take a moment to consider the gifts that they bring into your life--the moments you treasure that make being a caregiver worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

'Tis the Season to Manage Your Stress!

Contributed by: Emily Anderson and Deanna Leyh

National Caregivers Month may be over, but rest assured we haven't forgotten about you! Taking care of a loved one is a lot to handle anytime, but that is especially true when you are trying fit your caregiving duties in around other activities--like holiday parties. This season, give yourself the gift of some stress management. You might think you don't have enough time to start managing your stress now, but that's exactly why you need it! Your body, your mind, and the people around you will all benefit if you take a little time each day to feel rejuvenated.

Here are some quick ideas to get you started this month.

1. "Me" time

Take time for yourself to do activities that you find enjoyable and that give you pleasure. Maybe you enjoy getting your hair done or grilling a steak to perfection. Whatever it is that gives you a moment of joy, do it!

2. Sleep

You know how tired children get cranky? It turns out we never really grow out of that, we just get better at hiding it. Turn off the TV, put down your work emails, set aside your to-do list, and try to get enough sleep so that you feel well rested and ready to face whatever challenges arise.

3. Have a healthy snack

Cookies, chocolates, and candy canes, oh my! Remember to give you body some healthy, well-balanced foods.

4. Think positive thoughts

Negative thoughts lead to more worrying and stress. Try writing yourself an encouraging note like you might write to a friend, and keep it close at hand for if you catch yourself getting caught up in negative thoughts.


5. Try a relaxation exercise

Engage in relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, mindful meditation, and visualization. Check out this website for some short guided exercises.

6. Ask for help!

Some caregivers find it difficult to ask others for help or think that they should be able to do everything on their own. However, when others offer help, take them up on it!

It's never too soon and never too late to start managing your stress. These aren't miracle cures, so don't expect one pedicure or one deep breath to change everything. Doing a lot of little things to manage your stress, though, makes a big difference over time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holding a Family Meeting

by Emily Anderson

I met a family once that was very organized and had equally divided the responsibilities for caring for their father so that everyone had a role, but no one felt overburdened.

For most of us, no matter how much we love or dislike our family members, getting them coordinated is like herding cats. Nonetheless, family is one of the most important sources of support that you can call on.

Why call a meeting

Anytime is a good time to start coordinating your family to support you and your loved one, but there are two times when it can be especially helpful. Ideally, you start organizing your family when you first realize that your loved one will need more help. For some families, that realization hits with an unfortunate accident or diagnosis, like a broken hip or finding out that your loved one has cancer. For other families, the caregiving role develops gradually. Maybe you've seen some hints here or there, or been gradually picking up more responsibilities. If you're starting to notice some issues with your loved one, it's a good time to call a meeting.

You might not be new to caregiving though, you may be well down the path but feel like you are falling to pieces. Unfortunately, many people wait to ask for help until they are on the brink of desperation. No matter where you are when the idea occurs to you, it's not too late to get some help.

Many people wind up as the primary caregiver simply because of proximity. It’s not practical to have an out-of-state family member try to take on day-to-day tasks, but they can still lift some of your responsibilities. They might be able to take over monitoring the checkbook and the insurance policy or come to town to offer you periodic breaks. Sometimes a family member who can't offer time can offer financial support. Most importantly though, family can offer an emotional outlet for you to share your frustrations and other difficult emotions.

Feeling reluctant?

Many people are reluctant to call a meeting because they don't want to be a burden. This is particularly true if the people you are about to ask for help are your children. If your family is not being helpful, first ask yourself the following questions: Do they really know what's going on with your loved one? Have you shared how difficult it can be for you? Do they maybe want to help but don't know how? Sometimes, people are just waiting to be asked. A family meeting can help clarify the situation, its impact on you, and some ways they can be helpful.
Other times, people don't want to call a meeting because they are afraid all their relatives will say, "No, I won't help you." That response would leave you feeling more alone and hopeless than ever. But you never know until you try. If they do refuse to help, you're just in the same place you started, but now you can start making plans to find other supports

How to have a meeting

1. Ask to meet

Whether you talk to each person one-on-one or send out a group email, the first step is to suggest a meeting. Stick to simple observations about the things you're concerned about with your loved one and don't get too far into expressing your frustrations. You want people to come to your meeting, not get defensive. 
Say this: Lately Mom needs me to drop by every day and it is getting to be a lot for me to handle. I’d like a chance to talk with you all about what’s been going on.
Not this: Mom is so demanding I'm the only one doing anything for her. I can't keep doing this forever, you all need to step up and help out more.

2. Suggest a date and location

This is sometimes the hardest part. Consider letting people join the meeting by phone or Skype. If you can't find a time when everyone is available, pick the largest group and tell the remaining people you'll fill them in separately. You may choose to have the meeting in a familiar and comfortable environment, or you might choose to meet on neutral ground like a coffee shop or a park.

3. Make an agenda

The first meeting is often about helping everyone understand what is going on with your loved one, so be prepared with recent medical information, bills, or whatever else you think you might need. Write down your agenda so you don't forget what you wanted to talk about in the heat of the moment. Recognize that you probably won't get to everything on your agenda, so plan to talk about the most important things first.

If you are asking your family for help, sit down before the meeting and write down specific tasks they could take on, such as “Get groceries each week” or “Call to ask how I’m doing.” You are more likely to get support if you have some details about what you’re asking them to do.

4. Set some guidelines

When everyone is gathered for the meeting, consider starting with a statement about the goals and guidelines for the meeting. You won’t solve everything in one meeting, so pick a few urgent goals that you want to focus on at each meeting. Good guidelines for the meeting could include using "I" statements, being respectful, and trying to stay on track. For more on how to set guidelines at meeting, check here.

5. Hold the meeting

It's going to get sidetracked a few times, you won't get to talk about everything you planned, and your family will raise issues that you didn't expect. That's OK, that's how meetings go. Keep some notes about what people volunteer to do and topics that you’ll need to revisit.

6. Wrap it up

You might feel like you reached a conclusion or you might not, but meetings must end. Offer a summary of what you talked about, what you decided and what issues are still up for discussion. If you can, set up a time another meeting to continue the discussion.

And then good job, you did it! Repeat as needed. How often you need to meet and how enthusiastically they respond to your call for help will vary in each family.

Sometimes family members rush to help out in the beginning, especially if your loved one had a health crisis. The average caregiving situation lasts five years, though, so you want people to remain committed over the long haul. Often it takes several tries and several meetings to organize your family into some kind of coordinated plan. Don’t give up! It is OK to ask for help, and your efforts may pay off in the form of support for you and a better life for your loved one.

For more tips on conducting a family meeting, try this article from the Family Caregiver Alliance. PBS Newshour also has this excellent article with tips on "sharing care" between siblings.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Alert: Medicare Open Enrollment Ends Dec. 7th!

By Emily Anderson

When you turn 65, you get a special seven-month window to enroll in Medicare, consisting of the three months before your birthday, the month of your birthday, and the three months after your birthday. You also get a special chance to enroll in Medicare if you are under 65, but have a disability. Find out more about Medicare and how to enroll here.

Once you’re signed up, though, you only get a two-month window called “open enrollment” to make changes to that plan. Medicare open enrollment is going on now, and closes on December 7th. If you or your loved one has health insurance through Medicare, this is your chance to make changes to your coverage. For example, you might select a more or less expensive plan, enroll in parts C or D, or change your network to make sure you can see the doctors you like.

Help Enrolling in Medicare

It can be pretty overwhelming to figure out what health insurance is best for you, but thankfully, each state has a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to help you figure it all out. In Allegheny County our SHIP is called APPRISE, though if you live outside the county you can find your SHIP here. APPRISE is an independent benefits counseling agency, meaning that they have no financial interest in which plans you choose. They exist to help you understand the different options out there and make good choices based on your needs.

APPRISE is active year-round and available to help you or your loved one when you hit that magical 65-year mark, but they are especially busy at this time of year. Check out some more information on APPRISE here, or give them a call at (412) 661-1438 to talk to one of their experts.

Other Healthcare Options

If you are under 65 and don't qualify for Medicare just yet, it is also time to enroll for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment through goes until January 31st, but don’t wait until the last minute! The sooner you start the more time you’ll have to consider your options.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Benefits: Resources to Help

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Today is Veterans Day! It is a day when we recognize and thank our military veterans for their service to our country and dedication to protecting its citizens (although every day is a good day to thank them!). Our veterans have given so much to their country and provided care for their fellow citizens, and they deserve to be taken care of as well. There are many programs and services in the community to help veterans, their spouses, and families, but it can be hard to know where to begin looking for help and support. We hope that we can give veterans and their families helpful information on what programs are out there in our local community to help, as well as state and federal programs that may be in your area.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (The VA)

First and foremost, local veterans and their families should look into available services with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and get in contact with their local Office of Veterans Affairs. In addition to many physical and mental health services, the VA offers many programs for qualifying veterans, including:
  1. compensation and pension benefits,
  2. health care and local services,
  3. burial and memorial benefits,
  4. home loans, and
  5. education benefits. 
The Aid and Attendance benefit might be of particular interest to caregivers. For people who are eligible for the VA Pension, the Aid and Attendance benefit provides some additional income for those who are homebound or need assistance in activities of daily living, like dressing and bathing. This includes people who are paying for help at home and people who are patients in a long-term care setting, like a nursing home.

There are over 59 VA facilities providing care and services to veterans in Pennsylvania and eight medical centers in Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh. To learn more about federal programs for veterans, call (800)-827-1000, or visit the VA website.

State Veterans Services

There are also helpful state veterans services. The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs have a variety of programs to assist veterans and their families, including pensions for people with disabilities, tax exemptions, and other financial grants. Veterans can even qualify for free hunting and fishing licenses!

To learn more about these state programs, contact your nearest County Director of Veterans Affairs and discuss benefits and eligibility (for Allegheny County, call 412-621-4357). You can also contact the nearest office of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs or visit their website. You can reach Pittsburgh’s Office of Veterans Affairs at 866-754-8636.

Benefits and Rights Assistance: Community Programs and Advocacy Organizations

Despite the wealth of programs and services available to veterans, it may be hard to navigate and figure out the programs and benefits for which you, your spouse, and your family may qualify. If you still have questions or concerns after contacting your local VA, there are some community programs and advocacy organizations that may be able to help:

1. The Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans Services—Obtain a comprehensive listing of programs, benefits, and services for veterans and their families in PA. Contact them at (800) 547-2838. 
2. The Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation—This new organization provides assistance and support to the Commonwealth’s veterans and families. They ensure vets have access to up-to-date information and assistance to qualify for state and local benefits. To contact them, follow this link to the PVF
3. Protection Against Abuse and Fraud—hotlines are available to protect veterans and their families against financial fraud and scans. Contact the Department of Aging’s Elder Abuse Hotline at (800) 490-8505 or the Office of the Attorney General at (717) 783-1944. 
4. VetAssist Program—A program to help veterans and their families apply for the Aid and Attendance benefit with the VA, monitor your home care once you receive benefits, and provides you with community resources. Contact (888) 314-6075 or visit their website
5. Operation Veteran Benefits—A program that works with veterans, spouses, and families to ensure eligibility requirements are fulfilled for the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit. Contact (724) 591-8475 or visit their website
6. Veterans Care Coordination—This program assists veterans and their families in completing the application for the VA’s Aid and Attendance Pension benefit, provide care services, and assist with monitoring medical expenses to ensure eligibility. Contact 1-855-380-4400 or visit their website.

There are a lot of programs available to help and support veterans and their families. Don’t miss out—take advantage of community and financial supports! Our veterans have protected and supported us throughout the years, and it’s time to do the same for them. If you know a veteran or are a veteran, look into these helpful programs and services—and remember to thank them for their service, today and every day! Happy Veterans Day!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Happy National Caregivers Month!

From Emily Anderson and Deanna Leyh

By presidential proclamation, November is the official month during which we recognize and appreciate the efforts of the millions of people in the U.S. taking care of a loved one. Here’s a little reminder of what you all do:

  • In the U.S., nearly 44 million older adults need help at home. About 15 million have dementia.
  • The family and friends who help them (that’s you, caregivers!) make up almost a third of our adult population.
  • On average, you all spend twenty hours a week or more on caregiving duties. Half of you do that on top of keeping a regular, full time job.
  • You help you loved ones stay home an average of an extra 4.6 years, but about 1 in 5 of you will help your loved one live happily at home for more than ten years.
  • Collectively, the work that you do for your loved ones is worth more than $600 billion a year in the U.S.

Whether you do a lot or a little, you are a part of something big. Take some time this month to
acknowledge all that you do and give yourself a little reward, whether that’s a deep breath and a cup of coffee, a gold star sticker, or just a pat on the back. Thank you, caregivers, for all that you do!

Want to read more statistics on caregiving in the U.S? Check out the 2015 report from the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review

Contributed by Emily Anderson

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast

If you're looking to learn something about caregiving and have a great time, this is the book for you. Roz Chast's book is a quick and easy read because it is written like a newspaper comic strip, with drawings and handwritten stories. But don't let that fool you into thinking this book isn't serious. Chast's memoir of caring for her aging (and sometimes stubborn) parents is humorous and heartbreakingly honest. 

Though you might not get many practical tips out of it, Chast speaks to the true thoughts and feelings that every caregiver has, and it will leave you feeling a little less alone in your efforts to take care of the people you love.

Remember, one great way to relieve stress is to set aside a little bit of time for yourself to do something enjoyable, like reading a book. It is your right to make time for yourself, even when the people around you need you! Look for Chast's book at your local library or bookstore and set aside some quiet time to enjoy it on these chilly fall days.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shades of Gray Matter: The Types of Dementia

by Emily Anderson

We often talk to family members who are trying to sort out what their loved one's diagnosis actually means. Is "dementia" the same as Alzheimer's, or different? Is it worse or better?

"Dementia" is actually and umbrella term that refers to a whole group of diseases that share similar features, such as brain tissue damage, memory problems, difficulty making decisions, and changes in personality. We can make a guess about what kind of dementia a person has based on their symptoms, but there is no good way to tell for sure until after the person dies. If your doctor has told you that your loved one has "dementia," it may mean that though they are affected by a disease process, your loved one doesn't have any features distinctive enough for a doctor to tell what type of dementia he or she may have. Sometimes having a more specific diagnosis can help you know what to expect and how to help your loved one.

Though we are still just beginning to understand the various types of dementia, there are many resources for people who are affected and their families. Below are the most common types of dementia, with some details on how to tell them apart.

Alzheimer's Dementia

The one we are all familiar with, Alzheimer's disease affects about 13% of people over age 65 and begins with memory problems and progresses to more profound changes in communication, personality, and behavior. We all forget our keys from time to time or fail to recall someone's name, but usually it comes back to us later. A person with Alzheimer's however, will have more profound "forgetfulness" that they never figure out, even after asking the same question over and over. On a biological level, Alzheimer's comes along with deposits of protein in the brain called "plaques" and "tangles," as well as the loss of nerve cells in the brain. Alzheimer's disease makes up about 60-80% of all the cases that fall under the umbrella of "dementia." For more signs of Alzheimer's disease, information, and to find support, check the Alzheimer's Association website.

Vascular Dementia

The second most common type, vascular dementia, is the result of blocked blood vessels in the brain or bleeding from tiny (or sometimes massive) strokes. Many people with Alzheimer's dementia also experience vascular dementia. On its own, though, vascular dementia accounts for about 10% of all dementia cases and is marked more by difficulty with planning, making decisions, or organizing things and not so much with memory loss. If your loved one already has Alzheimer's and experiences some vascular dementia, you might notice a sudden deterioration in their behavior or thinking. Though people can often recover a lot from a massive stroke, some of the damage is permanent. To read more about vascular dementia and how you can protect your loved one, check here and at the American Stroke Association .

Lewy Body Dementia

This dementia often starts out with memory loss and is often mis-diagnosed as Alzheimer's Disease, but has some additional symptoms that are not usually found in Alzheimer's. People with Lewy Body dementia are more likely to have trouble sleeping, visual hallucinations, difficulty staying alert, and experience "frozen" muscles that make movement difficult. Currently, Lewy Body dementia accounts for 10% of dementia diagnoses, but it probably makes up more like 25% of those diagnosed. Visit the Lewy Body Dementia Association website for more information.

Frontotemporal Dementia

While the first three dementias listed here have a lot of similarities, Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) really sticks out. Although it is relatively rare, FTD tends to affect people earlier in life, as early as their 50s, and move much more rapidly. Rather than losing memory, people with FTD have changes in personality and difficulty with making good judgments and behaving appropriately. They might behave erratically or rashly, for example, in approaching strangers or eating foods. FTD then progresses to language loss, where the person has difficulty finding the words to express what they are thinking. Eventually, it also affects movement and memory. For more information and to find support, visit the Association for Frontotemporal Dementia.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Your doctor may have told you that your loved one has a "Mild Cognitive Impairment," or MCI. People with MCI have more memory troubles than is normal, but are able to function in daily life--usually with the use of notes and reminders. Some people with MCI go on to have a progressive dementia like those listed above, but not always. MCI can also result from temporary factors such as side effects from medications or depression. You can take steps to talk to your doctor about ways to prevent further decline. Read more details about the various problems that fall under "MCI" here.

Other causes

There are many types of dementia, and those were just the most common. As Parkinson's Disease progresses, for example, it often leads to symptoms of dementia similar to Lewy Body dementia. Wernicke-Korsakoff disease is a dementia that results from vitamin deficiencies usually associated with prolonged alcohol misuse. Some rare dementias, such as Huntington's, are genetic and lead to rapid and progressive decline. To read more about less common forms of dementia, try starting here.

Or, if you are interested in reading a lot of medical jargon, you can check out the National Institute on Aging's page on the subject.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Research Roundup--Risk Factors

 by Emily Anderson

Remember when some people stopped wearing deodorant or drinking out of aluminum cans because they were worried about "heavy metals" causing Alzheimer's? Though I'm not going to encourage you to run out and drink a bunch of pop, I am happy to report that we now know aluminum does not contribute to the development of Alzheimer's. Nor do aspartame, silver tooth fillings, or flu shots, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Today we'll take a look at what are some of the risk factors for dementia. Some risk factors you have very little control over, but others can be addressed with lifestyle changes and support. Whether you are worried about an older adult in your life or looking down the road at how your golden years will be, knowing the risk factors can help you prepare for, delay, or even prevent the onset of dementia.

1. Age

Though Alzheimer's and other dementias don't always strike late in life, they do become more common as we age. After age 85, as many as a third of older adults will experience memory and cognitive problems. There are a lot of theories about why this happens, but in part it may be that just like our joints and other organs, the brain wears out after a while.

2. Family history

Whether it's genes, habits, or environment, if members of your immediate family have had dementia, your risk increases as well. This is especially true if more than one person in your family has been affected.

3. Genes

Having particular combinations of genes can put you at a higher risk for dementia—or protect you from it! There are certain types of dementias, particularly those that start before age 60, which are strongly tied to a specific gene set. If you know a family member had an early onset dementia, you may be able to get genetic testing to see if you carry the same problematic genes. For most types of dementia, though, we know that genes play some role, but it's not clear how much.

4. Race

African Americans and Latinos in the United States are at a higher risk for dementia, probably as a result of a higher risk for other health problems and environmental risk factors.

5. Gender

Though men and women are just as likely to get dementia, women tend to live longer, putting them at higher risk. There is also some evidence that women decline more rapidly once the disease starts.

6. Head trauma

The dangers of concussions have gotten press lately due to some famous athletes who have had trouble, but it’s not just full-contact sports that can lead to problems later. Veterans and people who had a serious fall, for example, are at higher risk as well.

7. Heart health

Sometimes dementia is caused by "covert vascular brain injuries," essentially brain damage arising from the pounding of high blood pressure and little strokes. High blood pressure also contributes to massive, debilitating strokes. The risk is particularly strong if you have high blood pressure during your middle ages, putting both your heart and your brain at risk.

8. Overall health

People who are generally unhealthy in other ways are at an increased risk for dementia. This includes physical fitness, nutrition, smoking, controlling diabetes, and socializing.

9. Depression

A long-term history of depression doubles the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, particularly if they were severe or frequent episodes of depression. Be aware, though, that depression later in life can also be a first warning sign of dementia, in addition to being a risk factor. 
It's a long list, but the good news is that you can control many of these risk factors. Heart health, mental health, overall fitness, even protecting your brain from trauma--these are all in your hands! Take your own physical and mental health seriously and you could drastically improve your chances of healthy aging. If you haven't taken time to do so lately, try to visit your doctor to check for risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes. It's not too late to help your older loved ones be healthier, either--regular exercise and mental stimulation have been shown to hold off cognitive decline for as long as ten years
Want to read more about the risk factors for dementia? Try starting here.
Take action now to set your healthy aging in motion! Check out these tips for maintaining your brain and improving your overall health.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Get Smart- Digital Spotlight

by Emily Anderson

Fall is a busy time for families, but apparently a quiet time for community classes. Two opportunities we wrote about last time, "Better Choices, Better Health" and the "Where to Turn Conference" are coming up soon. If you'd like to read more about them, click here.

To change things up a little, this month we would like to spotlight some digital resources for caregivers. Watching YouTube videos of kittens is relaxing, but this list of videos has practical tips and ideas for caring for you loved one that will make your life easier.

1. Video Caregiving

This is a collection of less-than-ten-minute videos covering everything from emotions in caregiving to tips on how to provide personal care like turning a person in bed. Some are a little dated-looking, but the advice is good. At the top of the list are two tabs -- make sure to check out both the videos on Alzheimer's and those on caregiving. The full site for this nonprofit sells DVDS, but this set is all free.

Especially good for: Practical tips

2. Johns Hopkins Caregiving Series

We talk a lot about dementia and other aging related concerns on this blog, but many people become caregivers when cancer strikes a loved one. These ten videos are directed toward people caring for someone with cancer, but still consider looking at them even that doesn't describe your loved one. It has some good thoughts on having difficult conversations, preparing for the future, and taking care of yourself.

Especially good for: End of life planning

3. Lift Caregiving

If you haven't heard of TED talks before, you're about to get a delightful taste! This is actually a compilation of TED talks given by various people in different cities around the world. It's not very practically helpful, but it does offer some interesting thoughts to ponder and wonder at.

Especially good for: When you need a little inspiration

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Updated Support Group Map

Looking for a support group near you?

We’ve updated our guide to support groups in the Pittsburgh area. A lot of them have changed, but this represents the most up-to-date information my numerous phone calls could gather!

Once you click on the link below, it will take you to a Google Map that shows where current support groups are and contact information if it is available. On the left side of the map, you can choose what type of support groups you are interested in exploring. Categories include:

Caregiver Support
Parkinson’s Disease

To view the interactive map, click here!

You can also view the Area Agency on Aging's list of support groups in the area by
clicking here.

If you live outside of Allegheny County, or you don’t see a group for your needs here, there are several good places to start. Check with a hospital near you to see what groups they run. Many non-profit organizations that focus on a single disease (like the
Alzheimer's Association and the American Cancer Society) can help you find a support group and other resources. The Family Caregiver Alliance specifically focuses on resources and groups for family caregivers, and offers some online support groups. Finally, you can try getting started with this online self-help group search tool.

We do our best to keep this information up to date, but support groups are always changing. If you discover that one of the support groups listed here is no longer active, we'd appreciate it if you let us know. Likewise, if you know of one that is not listed here, feel free to share!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Staying at Home: Housing Resources Out There to Help You!

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Most of our loved ones want to stay in their home as long as possible, but sometimes financial hardship or other unanticipated events can make it difficult to do so. Sometimes it might be difficult for our loved ones to afford their rent or house payment, or they may even have trouble paying their utility bills.

However, being evicted, losing your home, or having your utilities turned off should never be a worry for older adults or their caregivers. During these scary times, it can be hard to know where to turn or if anyone could help — but there are programs and agencies out there in the community that are waiting to help people in a bind who need some help to stay in their home!

Help Finding Affordable Housing for Older Adults

Assisted Rental Housing
The Federal government can provide rental assistance for low-income, older adults (62 and older) and families and/or to people with disabilities (18 years and older). Tenants are required to pay just 30% of their income toward rent. For more information about assisted rental housing for older adults, contact your local housing authority or call (877)-428-8844 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Within Pennsylvania, this website will help you search for more accessible and affordable apartments and housing.

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh
This agency can help individuals struggling to pay their mortgage or rent by providing help with finding low-income housing and/or possibly financial assistance to help people stay in their home or apartment. For more information, visit their page on home assistance.

Homeowner and Renter Assistance

Customer Assistance Program, Utility Providers 
Most utility providers offer help to customers who aren’t able to pay their utility bills. Many utility providers will offer an optional payment plan, will accept a partial payment, or make special arrangements. Call your utility provider and ask about their assistance program, sometimes called "CAP."

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) 
This program helps low-income families pay a portion of their winter heating bills; it generally operates during winter heating season, which is between November and March. There are several ways to sign up for LIHEAP: you can apply online here, you can visit your local county assistance office, or you can call your Area Agency on Aging for assistance. 

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) 
This agency helps provide safe affordable homes and apartments for older adults, and they offer a variety of helpful housing-related programs for the state’s older adults. For instance, the Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) helps people who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments and are in danger of foreclosure. 

They also have the Renovate and Repair Loan, which provides affordable financing for homeowners who want to repair their home, improve it, make it more energy-efficient, so that they can continue to live independently. Other refinance programs can also help homeowners take advantage of lower interest rates to lower their monthly mortgage. If you would like more information on PHFA and their programs, check out their website or call the Homeownership Hotline at (800)-822-1174.  

The 504 Home Repair Program 
The Very Low-Income Housing Repair program through the USDA provides loans and grants to very low-income owners to repair, improve, or modernize their homes. Additionally, the Rural Housing and Rehabilitation Grants can help eligible owners/occupants who are 62 years or older with repairs or improvements.

*This isn't even all, there are other programs out there to help you keep your home. As always, contact your local Area Agency on Aging as well—they will be able to help you or your loved ones find and connect to the resources to help you stay in your home!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Home Safety

by Emily Anderson

Last week, we suggested that making the home a safer, more comfortable environment was one way to keep your loved one out of an institution. This week, we're going to take a closer look at how, exactly, to do that.

Fall prevention

Falling is a major problem for older adults, and a leading cause of injury, placement, and death. The NIH suggests that taking these steps could help prevent a catastrophe:
Remove hazards, including:
  • Clutter
  • Cords
  • Small pets
  • Slick floors
  • Icy steps
  • Rug edges that catch shuffling feet
  • Weird-shaped furniture you never liked anyway 
Keep it bright 
Use high-wattage lightbulbs and place lamps within easy reach of the bed and beloved chairs. Try motion-activated night lights in halls, bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. 
Grab bars and rails 
Especially on stairs and in bathrooms, make sure they are securely attached to the wall. 
Make it convenient 
Put light sources and frequently used items within easy reach. Ladders and chairs are a real no-no!

Special considerations for dementia

Dementias such as Alzheimer's impair a person's ability to make good judgments. They might also get confused easily, lose track of their sense of time and place, or have sensory impairments like reduced hearing or balance. If you are taking care of someone with a dementia, you'll need to take some extra steps to keep them safe.
Lock it up 
All hazardous substances and areas should be off limits. Consider your loved one's degree of impairment, then lock up anything that might be dangerous. This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Guns – better yet, remove them!
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Garages and basements
  • Sharp knives
  • Stoves or other fire sources
  • Medications
Use alert systems 
Someone with dementia might not notice the smell of smoke filling the house, or know what to do about it. Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and consider turning down the temperature on their water heater. 
Wandering locks 
Some people get confused and try to leave the house. Try sticking a colorful "Stop" sign on outside doors. Installing deadbolts high or low on the door can prevent wandering, since people with dementia often don't look for locks out of their line of sight.

Monitoring home safety has gotten easier with technology. I know people who have set up "nanny cam" video systems so they can check on their loved one night or day. There are alarm systems now that sync to smartphones and medical alert bracelets that call paramedics with the push of a button! You can't make your loved one's home foolproof, and accidents do happen, but taking some steps early on can prevent unnecessary injuries and trips to the hospital.

Inspired to make your home safer? For a very detailed home safety checklist, try this one from the AARP.

And here's another detailed list with tips for making your home more secure.

For more suggestions specific to people with a dementia, try the Alzheimer's Assoication here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Research Roundup - September

By Emily Anderson

To place or not to place?

That's the question on many caregivers’ minds, especially on rough days. Many people struggle to decide if they should move their loved one to a nursing home or some other supported living environment. Maybe on the one hand you know that your mom wants to be at home and is comfortable there while the nursing homes you visit seem so cold and sterile. On the other hand, you never get to stop running around, you can't always be there for your mom, and you're starting to worry about her safety.

Today, we'll look at what some of the research as to say about nursing home placement, specifically for people with a dementia such as Alzheimer's.

There's no gentle way for me to say this: The bad news is that nursing home placement is associated with shortened survival. The good news is that the longer you can keep your loved one at home, the better they are likely to do. This report by McClendon and colleagues found that if you move your loved one to a nursing home five years after their first symptoms they are about five times more likely to pass away. If you can hold out until 10 years, that risk drops by half, and by 15 years, placement pretty much doesn't make a difference. On average, people with Alzheimer's live seven years after diagnosis, so if you can hold out for even those first five, you're making a big difference. In short: Every year you keep your loved one at home, you increase their chances of living longer if they do eventually need to move to a nursing facility.

The next logical question, then, is: Why do people wind up in nursing homes? This study by Gaugler and colleagues pointed out two categories of factors that could lead to your loved on moving to a facility: a worsening disease process and caregiver stress. As time goes on, diseases generally get worse and it becomes more and more difficult to care for your loved one. They might depend on you more and more for the activities of daily living, descend into depression, or develop difficult behavioral symptoms. Just as important, though, is if you as the caregiver are feeling emotionally stressed or trapped. Stressed caregivers are more likely to move their loved one into a nursing home.

The point here is not to make you feel bad if you have reached the point where you are moving your loved one into a nursing home. Everyone has their limits as a caregiver, and if you've hit that limit, there is no need to feel guilty. Focus instead on the other side of what this research reveals: every week, month, and year that you dedicate to keeping your loved one home, you give them the gift of better survival odds. Your hard work, running around, and endless phone calls actually pay off for the person you're taking care of. The second study in particular highlights just how important it is for you to take care of yourself – your loved one depends on you, but you can only help them if you aren't feeling burned out and depleted.

And though we haven't figured out how to stop the progress of diseases like dementia yet, these studies point out that there ARE things you can do to improve your loved one's chances of staying at home. Three important steps (with research to back them up!):

  1. Make the home safe for your loved one – this can help prevent physical decline that would cause them to enter a nursing home.
  2. Talk to your doctor – they may be able to suggest medications that can help manage behaviors and moods so you can stay on top of things at home
  3. Take care of your own stress! Whether that means taking a nice walk or joining a support group, taking care of yourself means you'll be able to care for your loved one better and longer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Get Smart - September

Better Choices, Better Health

Sponsored by the United Way and presented by Familylinks affiliate Vintage, Inc., Better Choices, Better Health is based on the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, developed at Stanford University. It’s a six-week program for people dealing with chronic health conditions like diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and others. People with different conditions all attend the same classes; the program is aimed at dealing with any chronic condition, rather than giving tips for dealing with one specific problem. Learn about dealing with day-to-day challenges and medications, in addition to the benefits of good nutrition and exercise.

This program is free and held in more than 15 locations around Allegheny County throughout the fall and winter. Find a site near you and sign up by visiting the website here or calling Vintage at 412-361-5003.

Upcoming resource fairs

Though you may feel alone in your caregiving duties, there are a lot of resources in Allegheny county, and there may be one that suits your particular needs. Come to one of these fairs to collect information about different services, organizations, and resources that could help you. And we'll be at a lot of them, so feel free to stop by to talk with us!
Respite Community Forum & Resource Fair at CLASS
September 9th, 6pm-8pm
(1400 S. Braddock Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15218)

Life Options Pittsburgh at Dick's Court in the Monroeville Mall
September 11& 12th, 10am-7pm
( 501 Mall Cir Dr, Monroeville, PA 15146)

Senior Care Network Health Fair at Plum Creek Acres
September 16th, 11am-1pm
(501 Center New Texas Rd, Pgh, PA 15239)

Senator Vulakovich's Senior Expo at Allison Park Church
September 18th, 10am-1pm
(2326 Duncan Ave, Allison Park 15101)

Arthritis Expo at the Regional Learning Alliance Conference Center in Cranberry -- It's free, but register here
October 3rd, 9am-2pm
(850 Cranberry Woods Drive, Cranberry Township, PA 16066)

Where to Turn Resource Fair: Health and Wellness at the David Lawrence Conference Center
October 13th, 8am-12pm
(1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15222)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Options Program

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Is your loved one in need of help at home? Do you need someone to connect you to available services to help them remain in their home? If you’ve answered yes, then you might want to look into the Department of Aging’s Options program. Here, your local Area Agency on Aging will complete a comprehensive assessment to determine your loved one’s eligibility and identify service needs. From there, a Case Manager is assigned to work with you and your loved one on developing a plan of care and coordinate/arrange services.

Services available under Options include:
  • Adult Day Services—a center that your loved one can stay at during the day for some supervision and help in a group setting
  • Care Management
  • Counseling
  • Emergency Services
  • Home Delivered Meals
  • Home Health Services
  • Home Modifications—like grab bars, accessible chairs and so on
  • Home Support Services—including light house cleaning help
  • Personal Care
  • Personal Emergency Response Systems
  • Respite Care
  • Transportation
  • Other Services

In order to be eligible, your loved one must be a Pennsylvania resident age 60 and older. The cost of these services is based on a sliding scale—what you would pay is based on your income and the less you can afford, the less you pay. Remember—it doesn’t hurt to just call for more information! Contact your local Area Agency on Aging and inquire about the Options program to help keep your loved one in their home.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making Medicines Easier

by Emily Anderson

Do you open your loved one’s medicine cabinet and get slammed by an avalanche of orange bottles? Older adults are the largest users of prescription medications in the U.S., and nearly 20% take ten or more medications. Keeping on top of medications is an important task, but one that is frequently time consuming and frustrating. Today, we’ll look at a few things you can do to make managing those medications easier for you and your loved one.

1. Get organized

First, fill out a medication list like this one with your loved one’s current prescriptions. Also write down the over-the-counter medicines and supplements they take. Keep the list handy so you don’t have to sort through a ton of bottles every time you go to the doctor or want to double check something.

If you’re a smartphone user, they also have apps for this! That way you’ll always have the information right at your fingertips. Check out the apps from CareZone, the American Medical Association (iProducts only), and the AARP.

Second, get a pill box, available at your local corner drugstore. If your loved one takes medicines multiple times a day, look for a box that has “Morning, Afternoon, and Evening” sections. Filling up the pill box weekly will mean less time you have to spend wrestling with child-proof lids.

2. Toss old meds

If your loved one’s prescription changes or you have bottles of expired medications sitting around, get rid of them. They are creating clutter and could become a health risk if your loved one takes them accidentally. You don’t need to flush them, just mix them with something unpleasant like used coffee grounds and put them in the garbage. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, you can also bring the old medicines back to a pharmacy and ask them to handle disposal.

3. Set a schedule

Have regular times during the day for your loved one to take medications. If possible, link medication time to other daily activities like meals or brushing teeth—they are more likely to be remembered that way.

4. Provide reminders

Audio and visual reminders are best. Put a note in a noticeable place, such as the refrigerator or a nightstand, reminding your loved one when to take medications. You might also consider calling to remind them, if you can handle doing that regularly. Some specialized pharmacies also sell pill boxes that have lights or bells built into them as reminders. If your loved one keeps forgetting what the pills are for, consider making flash cards with a picture of the pill and a description of what it does that they can refer to.

5. Talk to your doctor

Write down questions that you want to ask your loved one’s doctor. For people taking many pills, sometimes the doctor can help you design a simpler medication regimen. Ask about non-drug treatment options, using less frequent doses, or smaller amounts of new pills. Also, always tell the doctor what over-the-counter medicines and supplements your loved one uses.

6. Talk to your pharmacy

Ask about automatic refill and home delivery programs that could make your life easier. Some pharmacies offer these services for free! Also try to use just one pharmacy—they can help you spot errors or contraindications, and you’ll have less running around to do.

7. Get it prepackaged

Check if there is a pharmacy in your area that can presort medications for you so you don’t have to fill up a pill box every week. Prepackaged pills either come in blister packs (like Dentyne Ice gum) or little sealed baggies. But still double check what is inside, mistakes can happen.

8. Double check

Everything. If you’re filling a pill box, double check that you are holding the right medication, that the dosage on the bottle is right, it’s the right time of day, and you have the right number of pills. Then take a peek at your loved one’s pill box to make sure they’re not missing days or skipping certain pills.

It’s hard to feel responsible for another person’s health and well-being. Medications often feel like a life-and-death matter, and sometimes they are. But you’re still human, and mistakes happen. If something does get mixed up, call your loved one’s doctor, and they’ll be able to tell you how to handle it. The more you get a system and a routine going, the easier it will be for you and your loved one.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Volunteer Caregivers

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Sometimes as a caregiver you may need a bit of time for yourself, whether it’s time for you to go to the doctor, time to run errands, time to get your hair cut, or even just time to relax and take a break from caregiving. And if you don’t have a lot of money laying around to hire someone to give you a break, getting a volunteer caregiver may be the right option for you! A volunteer caregiver is a community member (often trained in how to handle people with various disorders or dementias) who volunteers their time to come to your home to be a companion and take care of your loved one so that you can do other things.

While volunteers don’t help with medical needs or personal care needs, they do help with:
  • Grocery shopping
  • Running errands
  • Reading
  • Light meal preparation
  • Light housework
  • Companionship
  • Talking with the loved one
  • Transportation to doctors appointments
  • Snow shoveling/leaf raking
  • Other services
Volunteers are also often trained in how to handle people with various disorders or dementias. Typically they will come one to two scheduled times a week for 2-4 hours. Below we have listed some volunteer caregiver programs in our area that may be able to help give you a break!

1. Allegheny County’s Senior Companions Program:

Senior Companion volunteers provide regular visits and assistance to older adults, 60 years of age and older, in their home. Volunteers may help with simple daily activities, serve as an escort for shopping, medical, or social outings, or provide caregiver relief. These in-home visits are also an opportunity to check on the well-being of older adults during emergencies such as extremely hot or cold weather and power outages. If you’re interested, visit their program brochure.

2. Highmark PALS Volunteer Program:

Highmark PALS is a volunteer program that also provides any member with Highmark Blue Shield medical coverage and Medicare needing assistance with every day tasks. Volunteers will come to your home one to two times a week for a few hours at a time to help give you a break, sit with your loved one, running errands, etc. If you’re interested, visit their program brochure.

3. Open Your Heart to a Senior Program:

Open Your Heart to a Senior is a United Way initiative that trains and mobilizes volunteers to assist the elderly so that they can continue to live safely at home and so that their caregivers can get a much-needed break. In Allegheny County this program is also known under the name "In Service of Seniors." The United Way contracts with local non-profit agencies including North Hills Community Outreach, Family Services of Western PA, and Faith in Action to match volunteers with older adults needing assistance. Volunteers can help with companionship, transportation to doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and more. If you’re interested, visit their website or call 2-1-1.

Remember—it’s OKAY to ask for a break! As a caregiver, you have to take care of yourself first in order to continue to care for your loved one. There are people out there ready and waiting to help you take care of you!

*Updated 8/7/15

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Beginning to Plan for the Future

by Emily Anderson

Less than 50% of Pennsylvanians have advance directives like a will, a power of attorney, or a living will. Do you have them? Does your loved one? Are they up to date or from several decades ago? If you are taking care of someone, you should have these documents and understand what they contain.

Advance directives tell your family and your doctors who can make decisions for you and what you want done if you suddenly become "incapacitated," or unable to make decisions for yourself. There are four main types of documents that fall into the category of "Advance Directives" that you and your loved one need:
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney
  • Living Will
  • Will

Each is important for a different reason. Most of us are familiar with a will and what it does, but the first three documents on that list are more complicated because they come into play while your loved one is still living. Let's use an example to explore what each of these legal documents does. Suppose Anne is taking care of her father, who is 85 years old and still independent, but declining in health. Anne drops by her father's house about three times a week and calls daily, and lately has noticed that he is slower, more tired, and more forgetful. One day she arrives to find that he has fallen and has been lying on the floor for three hours. Anne calls an ambulance, and they whisk her father off to the hospital.

In the hospital, Anne's father is found to have a broken arm and a urinary tract infection and when she tries to talk to him, he is confused and delirious. Luckily, Anne has been prepared for this moment and has several legal documents in place. She presents the doctor with a copy of the Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney, showing that since her father is not able to make decisions right now, she will be the one making decisions on his behalf. Until her father is back to his usual self, the doctors will ask Anne to approve any treatment decisions.

In the meantime, Anne also pulls out her father's living will. A few years ago they had a difficult but important conversation about what sorts of treatment he wants. They recorded that information in his living will so that if he is not capable of making decisions, as he is now, his family and his doctors still know what he wants. Anne sees that her father wants antibiotic treatment, but if things get worse, he doesn't want to be hooked up to a bunch of tubes or given CPR. Anne also shows the living will to her father's doctor, so they can help make sure his wishes are respected.

In addition to being her father's healthcare power of attorney, Anne is designated as his durable power of attorney. As her father's hospital stay lengthens, being durable power of attorney lets Anne deal with other legal and financial matters on her father's behalf. She checks on his bank account, makes sure his bills are paid, and calls his long-term care insurance to see what help they cover for her father when he comes home. If the situation continues to stretch on, Anne could eventually take over all of her father's personal and financial matters, from managing his pension to paying for nursing home care.

Anne and her father were prepared for this moment, but if they did not have the legal documents in place, Anne would have run into frustrating complications as she tried to manage her father's affairs. People are often intimidated by the complexity of setting up legal documentation. Having everything in place made it so Anne knew what her father wanted and was able to make it happen even when he was sick. We often see people who wait too long to set up the legal documents, and then when their loved one is in a crisis, they are not able to step in and make decisions.

According to Attorney Carl B. Zacharia, J.D., the most important item to set up first is the durable power of attorney. As long as you have that in place, if your loved one becomes incapacitated, you'll be able to make decisions on their behalf, both for their continued health and for their finances.

Now, I know many people reading this are thinking to themselves, "But creating legal documents requires a lawyer, and those are expensive!" So we're going to look at some options for setting up the legal documents.

First and best, you can find an elder law attorney and speak with them personally. This will ensure that your legal documents hold up under local laws and that your loved one's specific wishes are set down in the best way possible. Especially if you are in a complicated situation and you want to make sure it's done right, it's best to talk to a professional.

Second, check out senior centers in your area. Many will offer workshops in which you and your loved one can create a living will, a power of attorney, or will. Often, these workshops are free or low cost!

Finally, you can take a chance and draft something yourself. There are several resources online to help you prepare legal documents on your own, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, the AARP. There is a big risk here: law is a pretty nit-picky area, and if you don't word your document just right, it may not stand up under pressure. It's better to have something than nothing, but if you choose to go it alone, recognize that your efforts might not be truly legally valid.

For more resources on planning for the future, take a look at these sites:

If you live outside Pennsylvania, check with your local AARP chapter or Bar Association for more resources.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Research Roundup -- July

by Emily Anderson

Science and research move ahead quickly. We’ll periodically give you an update on important findings that might be relevant to you or your loved one. Take a few minutes to read about what’s new this month below!

Diabetes management can slow cognitive decline

Uncontrolled blood sugar could contribute to the development of dementia, but also will rapidly speed decline. We've known for a while now that diabetes plays some kind of role in the progress of dementia. A new study shows that uncontrolled blood sugar levels lead to more neuronal plaques in the brain, thought to be the main cause of dementia. The lessons: if you don't want dementia, get your blood sugar under control, and if you're taking care of someone with memory problems, out-of-control blood sugar will likely make those problems worse.

Steps you can take to age well

Being a caregiver for an older adult often makes us think of our own aging process. So far, medical remedies have been few and far between, but it is never too late to make lifestyle changes that can dramatically impact long-term health. A recent survey discovered that though most people are aware that lifestyle factors impact how well we age, there is much more confusion over what, exactly, we should be doing. It turns out there is rather sparse evidence for brain games like crossword puzzles and even less for some of the much-glorified "magic foods." But a generally healthy diet, regular exercise, stopping smoking, and maintaining heart health are strongly linked to brain health. If you're taking care of someone, you may be closely watching their healthy habits, but are you watching your own? Protect your own health by making some lifestyle changes today!

Don't know how to get started? Try here!

New report on caregiving in the US

Ever wonder who else is doing what you're doing? The AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving have released a new, comprehensive report on caregiving in the US. It explores the details of caregivers' lives including demographics, unpaid hours, daily tasks, stress and strain, and even the impact of caregiving on work. The report itself is a bit technical and heavy on the numbers, but if you're curious, it is a wealth of impactful statistics you can use to impress your friends and your boss.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Get Smart!

Trainings, Classes and Events Coming up Around Pittsburgh

by Emily Anderson

Take advantage of the many wonderful opportunities in our community to learn new caregiving skills, connect to resources, and hear other people’s stories. Here are a few upcoming classes you may be interested in:

AAA Caregiver Series

These classes take an in-depth look at issues related to caregiving. The Thursday, July 16th class covers legal and financial issues, while the Friday, August 7th class will discuss healthy eating. This series is held from 10am to 12:30pm at the AAA offices on the South Side and though it is partway over, it is not too late to join and get the information you need! Please RSVP to 412-350-4996.

By the Department of Human Services
Located at 2100 Wharton St, Pittsburgh, 2nd floor

How to Navigate Your Personal Journey

This six-class series will cover common myths and symptoms of grief, handling difficult emotions, making needed adjustments, and identifying supports for yourself. There is a $15 registration fee, and classes will be held at the Good Grief Center in Squirrel Hill. Classes are on Thursdays from 6:30pm-8:00 pm on the following dates: July 16th & 30th, August 13th &27th, September 10th &24th. Please RSVP to 412-224-4700.

By the Good Grief Center and Ursuline Support Services
Located at 2717 Murray Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

Stroke Support Group

This stroke support group covers various topics with presentations from experts. The group meets on the following Wednesdays from 1:00pm-2:30pm: July 15th, Aug 19th, Sept 16th, Oct 21st, Nov 11th, Dec 9th. Please RSVP to or (412) 826-2784

By HealthSouth Harmarville
Located at 320 Guys Run Road—McLaughlin Education Center

Gone from My Sight: Caregiver Strain at the End of Life

A Certified Nurse Practitioner speaks on “the unique experience of caring for a loved one through the active phase of dying and the steps to recovering afterwards.” It includes helpful tips for caring for your loved one, thoughts on making tough decisions, and ways to stay mentally and physically healthy as a caregiver. This event is free and will be held at the Good Grief Center on Wednesday, August 12th from 10:00am-11:30am. Please RSVP by Aug 7th to 412-224-4700.

Part of the Women’s Speaker Series by Calvary Episcopal Church and Ursuline Support Services
Located at 2717 Murray Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Everything is Awful and I'm Not Okay

Questions to ask before giving up 

Adapted from writings by Eponis 

We've seen this many times: you are so busy taking care of your loved one, you forget about your own needs. If you are feeling particularly run down, take a moment to ask these simple questions and address your basic needs.

Are you hydrated? If not, have a glass of water.

Have you eaten in the past three hours? If not, get some food — something with protein, not just simple carbs. Perhaps some nuts or hummus?

Have you showered in the past day? If not, take a shower right now.

If daytime: are you dressed? If not, put on clean clothes that aren’t pajamas. Give yourself permission to wear something special, whether it’s a funny t-shirt or a pretty dress.

If nighttime: are you sleepy and fatigued but resisting going to sleep? Put on pajamas, make yourself cozy in bed with a teddy bear and the sound of falling rain, and close your eyes for fifteen minutes — no electronic screens allowed. If you’re still awake after that, you can get up again; no pressure.

Have you stretched your legs in the past day? If not, do so right now. If you're not up for a run or trip to the gym, just walk around the block, then keep walking as long as you please. If the weather’s awful, drive to a big box store (e.g. Target) and go on a brisk walk through the aisles you normally skip. Or even just go up and down all your stairs a few times.

Have you said something nice to someone in the past day? Do so, whether online or in person. Make it genuine; wait until you see something really wonderful about someone, and tell them about it.

Have you moved your body to music in the past day? If not, do so — pick any song with an upbeat tempo, whether it's an old Sinatra gem or a modern electronic dance number, and dance around the room. If you're not feeling inspired to dance, just jog around for the length of an upbeat song.

Have you hugged a living being in the past two days? If not, do so. Don’t be afraid to ask for hugs from friends or friends’ pets. Most of them will enjoy the cuddles too; you’re not imposing on them.

Do you feel ineffective? Pause right now and get something small completed, whether it’s responding to an e-mail, loading up the dishwasher, or brushing your hair. Good job!

Do you feel paralyzed by indecision? Give yourself ten minutes to sit back and figure out a game plan for the day. If a particular decision or problem is still being a roadblock, simply set it aside for now, and pick something else that seems doable. Right now, the important part is to break through that feeling of being stuck, even if it means doing something trivial.

Have you seen a therapist in the past few days? If not, hang on until your next therapy visit and talk through things then.

Have you been over-exerting yourself lately — physically, emotionally, socially, or intellectually? That can take a toll that lingers for days. Give yourself a break in that area, whether it’s physical rest, taking time alone, or relaxing with some silly entertainment.

Have you changed any of your medications in the past couple of weeks, including skipped doses or a change in generic prescription brand? That may be messing with your head. Give things a few days, then talk to your doctor if it doesn’t settle down.

Have you waited a week? Sometimes our perception of life is skewed, and we can’t even tell that we’re not thinking clearly, and there’s no obvious external cause. It happens. Keep yourself going for a full week, whatever it takes, and see if you still feel the same way then.

You’ve made it this far, and you will make it through. You are stronger than you think.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Our Daily Bread

Meals on Wheels and Food Resources

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

You or your loved one may need help learning about and connecting to food and nutrition programs. Here is an overview of federal, state, and local food assistance programs and how to find them:

Meals on Wheels: Home-delivered, nutritious meals are available free of charge for individuals 60 years of age or older and their spouses who are determined to be in need by their local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). (If you’re in Allegheny County, contact your AAA here. If you’re elsewhere in Pennsylvania, find your AAA by clicking here.)

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/Food Stamps): SNAP helps low-income individuals and families buy the food they need to stay in good health. This is an income-based program, so to find out more about the program or to see if you qualify, call 800-692-7462 or 800-451-5886 (TDD) or visit the USDA page on this program.

Congregate Meals: Nutritious meals are available free of charge to individuals 60 years of age or older and their spouses five days a week or more in Senior Community Centers associated with your local Area Agency on Aging. Check with your AAA to find a Senior Community Center near you.

Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP): This program provides food packages to give participants extra nutrients that they may lack in their diets. Food packages may include peanut butter, canned meats, and canned fruits and vegetables. For more information, call 800-468-2433 or visit this page.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP): TEFAP purchases surplus food and provides it to agencies that directly serve it to the public. To qualify for home use of food, recipients must meet certain income and household size criteria. To learn more about this program, call 800-468-2433 or see more details here.

Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP): This program provides low-income older adults with four $5 checks, which allow them to purchase fresh, nutritious, locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs from participating farmers’ markets. To find out more about the Farmer's Market program, call your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA).